Requiring people to wear face masks in public amid the pandemic creates a “very real risk” of a spike in bank robberies, according to Brian P. Brooks, the US Treasury’s acting comptroller of the currency.
Brooks issued the warning Monday in letters to the nation’s mayors and governors outlining how lockdowns aimed at curbing the virus could hurt the American banking system. He said many banks relaxed bans on masks and head coverings at the height of the pandemic to protect their customers’ health.
“While that may have been a prudent decision when the extent of the health risk was still unknown, recent reports of face-covering-related robberies at bank branches and other establishments make clear that broadly applicable face mask requirements are not safe or sustainable on a permanent basis,” wrote Brooks, whose first day in the post regulating national banks was Friday.
Mask-wearing robbers have indeed ransacked banks and other businesses during the pandemic, according to news reports. The feds accused a Connecticut man of robbing several gas stations while wearing a surgical mask in March, before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s early April recommendation to wear face coverings in public.
Brooks’s letter did not detail how many such incidents have occurred nationwide or what kind of financial losses banks have incurred from the robberies.
But he said restrictions meant to control the virus pose a range of other risks that could “threaten the stability and orderly functioning of the financial system.”
For instance, banks could suffer from higher delinquency rates on loans to small businesses whose revenue has evaporated amid the lockdowns, according to Brooks. Vandals and burglars could hit properties that have been vacant for long periods of time, threatening the collateral for commercial real estate loans, he said.
Local officials could also harm that collateral if they cut off utilities for businesses that defy lockdown orders, as some cities have threatened to do, Brooks said.
“I ask that your members carefully consider the impact of their lockdown orders on the health and functioning of our shared national financial infrastructure as they implement the President’s guidance to determine when and how to unwind those orders,” Brooks wrote in his letter to the US Conference of Mayors.